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Anne-Elisabeth Devereux

Lead Me Not Into Temptation | Tuesday April 12, 2 pm

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Privy Garden

The Privy Garden at Whitehall is laid out in ordered blocks with statues in the center of each square, the classical creatures easily draw the eyes of lovers of art. The different statues depict the nine Muses (Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania) and the three Graces (Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia), each holding or surrounded by that which is most associated with her, such as a lyre or scroll. As one wanders, it is often noted that the red roses remain on one side of the garden while the white ones remain on the opposite side, thus creating a pleasant contrast throughout. About the garden are scattered several benches, but none are secluded.


 

 

For her meeting with Lord Silverbridge, Anne-Elisabeth had chosen a gown of bright coral silk shot through with golden threads. She had thought about wearing a more subtle color just to surprise the intriguing Baron, but she just couldn’t resist attiring herself in vivid hues. With tanned skin and raven hair, she had the coloring for them. Jewel tones would make a fair-skinned lady with light hair look pale and washed out. So why not wear colors that most ladies could not pull off?

 

Over it, she wore an equally flamboyant turquoise cloak trimmed around the edges with soft brown fur. After a year and a half in England, she had not yet adjusted to the climate after spending most of her life in Barbados. She also wore a thick chemise and warm stockings beneath her gown. With the sun shining brightly in the early afternoon sky, she felt quite comfortable as she made her way from her carriage to the Privy Garden.

 

A bit early, the young Countess decided to visit the statue of Urania. Lord Silverbridge would not be able to miss her standing in the square. Urania was the muse of astronomy and Anne-Elisabeth loved to study the night sky. Perhaps her favorite muse would help her to discover a new star, which was one of her yet-unfulfilled dreams. As she gazed up at the statue’s stone face, she found her thoughts not on the heavens but on the handsome and witty gentlemen she had met in church yesterday. She was eager to know more about him and engage in more flirtatious banter.

 

Perhaps, if things go well, I shall show him the labyrinth.

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He was late.

No fault of his own as he was not familiar with Whitehall let alone what surrounded it! He had assumed she had ment St James Park so he had gone there earlier than the arranged time and walked back and forth but could not find her. He guessed she would attire herself in much the same fashion but there too he was unable to spot such a creature. He had found himself at a loss but with determination thought that there must be some other 'Garden' so he, with his height and quiet elegance, had simply found a Palace page and asked and tossed a penny for the help. He made his way to what he had been told was the Privy Garden and soon found himself there. Taking stock of the surroundings and checking the inside of his deep blue coat with silver braid and buttons with pants that matched worn over a cream waistcoat embroidered discreetly in a small flower scroll done by his sister he walked straight ahead.

He took in the articutural layout and found it quite pleasing to the eye. The placement of statuary added to it as well as the display of both red and white roses in abundance. A movement caught his attention and he half turned towards it.

there she was

The color of her cloak combined with her hair color made him think of a tropical bird and that was what she was in actuality! She was before a statue looking as if she were in some contemplation as he approached quietly.

""You Prayers has been answered. I have arrived as promised. I am sorry for my lateness .... forgiven?"

He smiled down at her his eyes alight with amusement. 

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As the moments passed by, each one seeming longer than the last, Anne-Elisabeth’s mood turned from eager anticipation into simmering anger. He stood me up! He never intended to meet me in the gardens today. He was just leading me on!

 

She sat on the bench close to the statue and began to plot her revenge. Lord Silverbridge was going to pay for the joke he had played on her. She didn’t see the statue as she gazed up at it. Her mind was churning with various methods of obtaining vengeance. He was so new to court that …

 

His voice startled her and she leapt to her feet. Spinning to face him, her cloak and gown flared around her and fat raven ringlets bounced about her shoulders. As soon as she saw Lord Silverbridge's smile, her plans for retribution began to fade like a foggy mist on a bright summer morning.

 

“I was beginning to think that you had played me for a fool,” Anne-Elisabeth admitted, “and that my trust in you had been misplaced. I’m glad I was wrong.” Her grin was both winsome and wicked. “You should be too.

 

“And yes, I forgive you, my lord. I won’t even ask you why you were late.”

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She swirled about her plumage on display and temper to match he thinks. Yet her smile was quick and she more amiable.

"I would never do such a thing." Hand to his heart. "And a fool is not what I think you are. There are far better words I assure you."

"Ah. But explain I shall. I am not at all familiar with this place ..." He gestured to take in their surroundings. "So I had thought you arranged for St James Park. Thus I did arrive early and walked back and forth to exhaustion."

"But never you did I see. Until at last I bribed a palace boy with a penny and was told of here."

"And so I have arived. And I come not empty handed. Please let us sit."

One hand went to her shoulder and he led her to the bench she had just left seeing her settled before he sat beside her but not touching.

"I hope that this will assuage any thoughts of revenge ..."

He was half turned towards her as he reached inside his coat and gently took out a white handkerchief. Cradeling it he asked her to hold out her hands.

"I could not help it. I came by this poor thing not far from here and I could not pass by even tho I tried. It is no doubt an orphan and quite lost."

"Will you accept it and not be lonely? A peace offering for my lateness."

Unwrapped she would fine a small kitten barely old enough to leave its mother. It was pure white with startling green eyes. A tiny meow could be heard. 

"This place is sure to be littered with cats employed no doubt in much the same ways we use them for. Yet this one tugged at my heart."

He was for all his height and strength a gentle man and sentimental when he needed to be.

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Oh, but Lord Silverbridge was charming! Anne-Elisabeth wondered just what words he would use to describe her, but she didn’t have time to ask before he launched into an explanation that she had promised not to ask for. “I should have been more specific,” she admitted with a rueful smile. “It’s an easy mistake to make."

 

One raven eyebrow rose when he said he had not come empty-handed. Had he brought her a gift? The thought delighted her. It must be small, like a piece of jewelry, something he could carry in his pocket. “You never fail to intrigue me, my lord,"  she said, allowing him to lead her to the bench she had been sitting on while plotting her revenge.

 

And he had guessed what she had been doing! Did Lord Silverbridge hold grudges too? Anne-Elisabeth made a note never to get on his bad side, no matter how clever an adversary he might be. She leaned forward as he pulled a handkerchief from his coat. By the gentle way he held it, it must be very fragile. She held out her hands when he asked her to and he placed it in her hands. It was moving!

 

She pulled the edges of the handkerchief apart and found herself holding …

 

A kitten.

 

Anne-Elisabeth had never been fond of cats. They were too much like her … sleek, elegant, arrogant, and with no morals to speak of. She just looked down at it while he told her that he had found it on the way and couldn’t pass it by. It was so tiny. Were all kittens that small? She couldn’t help feeling sorry for the little creature, probably orphaned before its mother could teach it to hunt. It was innocent, helpless, and vulnerable.

 

If she didn’t accept it, where would it wind up? Killed by a dog? Taken it by somebody who would expect it to be content with whatever scraps they threw its way? Would it be neglected, ignored, and abused? Perhaps she could convince Lord Silverbridge to keep it. She didn’t want to be ungrateful, but …

 

And then it yawned … scrunching up its little face and opening its mouth so wide that all its teeth could be seen … and the young Countess was completely smitten. You will never want for anything, she promised it. I will love you and cherish you unconditionally.  You will have everything that a kitten could possibly desire. All the other cats will envy you for having such a wonderful home.

 

Smiling, she softly scratched it behind its ears. It was a beautiful little thing with snow white fur and vivid green eyes. She looked at it in wonder and then raised her eyes to Lord Silverbridge. The fact that he was gentle and compassionate made him more endearing to her and she knew without a doubt that she wanted to get to know him better.

 

“Thank you,” she told him. “And I’m sure this dear little thing thanks you as well. It doesn’t seem old enough to be a mouser. I’ve seen rats that are larger.” She shifted the handkerchief and nestled it in the crook of one arm. The kitten stood up, stretched, turned in a circle, and then settled down into a comfortable position.

 

“I hope nobody who thinks we’re savages saw you give it to me.” She chuckled. “They’ll think you were presenting me with a snack.”

 

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Posted (edited)

Not everyone had a fondness for such animals beyond the usefulness of vermin catchers and he had gambled that she might be different.

Yet her reaction after a few minutes was as he had hoped and he nodded pleased that the little thing would be taken care of.

'I think perhaps her fate is more towards the inside rather than out - I see a future of comforts especially as you now are clearly "Mother".'

"Us? Savages?" He shook his head in disbelief. "And if you are hungry I can think of better things to offer as a snack  .... But you must tell me all your likes for I should hate to be scolded for the wrong things."

He was mock serious but his eyes danced and he reached out one hand to gently brush away some leaves that had settled on one of her shoulders.

"I should hate to see it stained  ...." 

It was really just wanting to touch her yet he couched it in manners.

"See." 

He held up some of the small leaves now a bit crumbled from off her cloak.

"Shall we walk a bit?" he asked. "Even tho I am fare worn thru from searching you out. If you are nice I shall by you some refreshment of your choice."

He stood and took the kitten from where it rested and once again tucked in inside his coat with care.

"Shall we?"

He held out an arm his smile charming and playful.

Edited by John Palliser

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Anne-Elisabeth had seen cats roaming through her garden and assumed that one of her servants took care of them, if they needed taking care of at all. Perhaps all they needed was a diet of rats. She had not seen a single rodent in her house, so they were obviously good at their job. Cats were necessary inconveniences that had to be tolerated, and she had never thought she would ever fall in love with one.

 

“I agree wholeheartedly. This little ball of fluff will be pampered and spoiled. I shall have my cook prepare some fish for her when we get home, accompanied by a saucer of milk.” Taking her eyes from the adorable kitten, she looked up at Lord Silverbridge. “You will be welcome to visit and see how she grows. If I am her mother, than you can be her father.”

 

She chuckled.  “We know we’re not savages, but you know how we’re seen.” Her eyes scanned the immediate area. Several courtiers were enjoying the gardens today. She saw two couples who seemed quite well-acquainted. There was an older woman strolling alone with her maidservant, a few young gentlemen laughing in a group, and a gaggle of teenage girls who were ogling the gentlemen under the watchful eyes of their tired-looking chaperone. None of them paid the least bit attention to the two foreigners with a kitten.

 

Anne-Elisabeth narrowed her eyes impishly as she looked him up and down appreciatively. “Oh, I do love my snacks. I have no doubt that you will learn of my preferences soon enough.” Her eyes briefly wandered to his lips, wondering how they would taste upon hers.

 

Lord Silverbridge brushed something from her shoulder. The warmth of his hand seemed to seep through her cloak, stirring desire within her. Maybe I will take him to the labyrinth. “Thank you, my lord,” she said. “And yes, let us get out of the shade of the tree that is still shedding its old leaves.” Her eyes widened. “There are some in your hair as well.” Reaching up, she flicked them away. His hair was such a pretty color. Why did men always have the best hair?

 

“There are a lot of benches where we can rest if you get too tired.” The tall, handsome Baron looked quite athletic to her, He was probably just teasing her. She let him take the kitten from her arms and tuck it back into his coat. It would be much more comfortable held close to the warmth of his body. Anne-Elisabeth envied it for its good fortune.

 

Standing up, she placed her hand upon his sleeve. His smile sent little thrills racing down her spine. “Urania is probably glad to see me go,” she said, indicating the statue with a wave of her free hand. “I’ve been calling on her all too often lately to show me the wonders of the night sky. Tell me, Lord Silverbridge, do you have a favorite muse?”

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"Well that shall ease my mind - knowing that you shall care for it and see to its wants and needs."

"I am actually a bit envious."

His smile was a teasing one yet there was some truth as well.

He followed her gaze but then gave a small shrug of one shoulder in dismissal. Drew in a breath as she repeated his geature her touch light.

"Do you? Yes I can see that you would appreciate me being a quick learner. I never disappoint ...."

He saw her look to his mouth and ran the tip of his tounge lightly over his lips before smiling as he reassured he that he was not in the least tired.

"Indeed I find myself eager to continue on curious to discover in what direction we shall go. Do you prefer a quick turn or a more leisurely stroll?"

He would be happy to oblige if she wanted a quick tumble but rather hoped she was of the later.

"A Muse?"

He thought for a moment.

"Why a 'Muse of Fire' naturally. Yet my Muse, unliike Master Shakespeare's, evokes no God Of War nor seeks reference to Kings."

"But rather speaks of Heat and Temperament. Senses."

"Something I think you can understand."

He had no need to mince words. She clearly was well able to understand and read between the lines.

"But I have no wish to discover everything all at once. Tis so much better is it not to anticipate." 

Her hand on his arm was tucked in comfortably aganist his side as he led her off adding 

"Will you be 'Guide' and leed me on?"

Said with such a straight face.

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Anne-Elisabeth noted the teasing tone in Lord Silverbridge’s voice. “Envious?” she asked, a wicked gleam in her eye. “If you really want me to feed you fish and give you a saucer of milk, that can be arranged.” She almost added that he could curl up beside her at night as well, but that comment was far too suggestive at this point in their relationship.

 

Her eyes narrowed playfully. “You never disappoint? I have very high expectations, you know.” He was a confident one. She liked that, for it was a trait she possessed as well. But was he daring? Was her creative? She certainly hoped so. His innuendo already filled her with excitement. Did hers have the same effect on him? She was being rather tame, but that was what their current conversation called for. Lord Silverbridge seemed to think like she did … anticipation was worth drawing out and savoring.

 

Ah, so he had seen her looking at his lips. Why else would he lick them like that … so innocently but also so sensuously? Bright little flames licked through her body and she felt like she was burning up despite the cool air on her face. I wish I could remove my cloak. If he did, it would look too suspicious. A lady who lived most of her life on a tropical island would normally be cold on a spring day in Englan. The fascinating Baron would know the effect that his simple gesture had on her and that simply wouldn’t do.

 

“I definitely don’t want to hurry. If we go too fast, we will not be able to experience everything the gardens have to offer.  And while I have been here before, there are many wonders I have not yet discovered.”

 

As far as Anne-Elisabeth knew, there wasn’t a muse of fire, Listening to Lord Silverbridge’s words, she thought there should be. There was certainly heat flowing through her veins. It was getting hotter and hotter beneath her cloak. She looked up at him, a sultry smile curving her lips. “I understand perfectly.” Her hand gently stroked his sleeve. “It seems as if we both delight in indulging our senses.” Maybe someday soon, I will be your muse.

 

And he agreed with her about savoring anticipation as well. “Of course I will be your guide.” I will definitely lead you on too. “We can simply stroll aimlessly or we can choose a destination. I know where the labyrinth is. It’s hard to miss. There’s also a walled garden around here somewhere. Perhaps we can discover its location together.”

 

Her smile turned mischievous. “What is your pleasure, my lord?”

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Posted (edited)

He said nothing in repy at first just continued giving her 'that' smile and his eyes danced in amusement. 

He knew that she knew he knew she was looking at his mouth and his gaze went to her luchious looking mouth wondering how she would taste. Sweet but with some spice mixed in he guessed.

"I am all for discovering My Lady be it gardens buildings or something else ... Every place has a story to tell do you nor think?"

He could not but help but feel the subtile pressure as her hand caressed his sleeve.     soon you shall be touching other parts as well

"So you take my meaning then? I am glad. It saves time not having to explain."

She agreed to be his Guide as he knew she would.

"Let us start slow shall we. A gentle ramble that does not tire yet creates excitement at what lies ahead."

"A labyrinth? That intrigues. You know it well? Or shall we be lost and must rely upon each other?"

"My Pleasure Lady is what ere pleases you. Lead on. And on the way let us continue to discover more of each other .... "

He slowed his pace to accomadate hers.

Edited by John Palliser

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Oh yes, Lord Silverbridge had seen her gaze. That disarming smile confirmed her suspicions. Perhaps without knowing her own intentions, Anne-Elisabeth had wanted him to notice. Whether accidentally on purpose of purposefully on accident, his reaction was alluring. And that, she believed had been no accident.

 

“Most places have a story to tell,” she agreed, “but if we encounter one that doesn’t, it is our obligation to give it one.” That comment, she hoped, aroused his imagination … and other parts of him.

 

“There seems to be an intrinsic understanding between us.” Her hand drifted slowly down his sleeve and briefly touched his wrist before meandering back to his elbow. “Maybe it was not serendipity that brought us together at church. If my mind was ruled by fancy rather than logic, I might believe that it was meant to be.”

 

Lord Silverbridge’s innuendo was delectable. “Very well, we shall luxuriate in the delights of the garden and allow it to surprise us with its wonders.”

 

He seemed quite interested in the labyrinth. “No, I don’t know it well. I found it last winter but it was so cold that I thought it best to leave before I got lost and froze to death.” Anne-Elisabeth smiled mischievously. “I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about freezing while I am with you.”

 

So their destination was up to her. “Then the labyrinth it is. There is supposed to be a fountain in its center. Let’s see if we can find it.”

 

She began to guide Lord Silverbridge down the path toward it. “Do you like to study the stars, my lord? I adore astronomy myself. What does the night sky look like in the colonies? Can you see the constellations clearly or are they usually hidden by clouds as they are here in England?”

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Her touch sent little trails of delight all over his body as he nodded his head in agreement of her observation.

"Anything is possible so it may indeed be Fate. We shall have to either attend Church frequently in appreciation or come up with other means to test your theory."

With his free hand he tucked hers more securely aganist his body as they began to walk towards the labyrinth.

He was surprised at her interest.

"Really? A most unusual occupation for a Lady. But then you are far from usual."

He guided her around some wet ground careful to make sure her skirts didn't suffer to much as he picked up her question.

"The night sky is black as ink and pocked with stars that glisten like diamonds in candlelight. Tis easy to read what lies up there if you know where to look."

"But Winter is awful and if the snow is heavy then wind follows and people and animals die of freezing. Spring comes and Life returns. Buds appears and flowers begin to bloom."

"Much like this." He gestured to take in their surroundings. " Summer is humid and hot and full of insects - in the air and on the ground. Fall is a beatuiful time as tthe leaves on trees turn gold and orange and red."

"I should think tis much different where you are from."  

"Will you ever go back there?"

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“If I ever see a chapel again, it will be too soon,” Anne-Elisabeth sighed. One reason she had suggested a stroll in the gardens rather than a ride in the park was that her bum was sore from sitting so much during the past four days. She doubted she was the only courtier who was happy that Easter came only once a year. “But I suppose we shall both be back on Sunday.” She grinned playfully. “I think the best way to show our appreciation is to sit together again.”

 

Her head tilted to the side. “I suppose we could test my theory by purposefully avoiding each other to see if circumstance draws us back together, but perhaps it is better not to test fate at all.”

 

As far as tests went, Lord Silverbridge had just passed hers. He did not told her that women should have no interest in science and that she shouldn’t stick her nose in places where it did not belong. Instead, he seemed both accepting and intrigued by her unusual hobby. He was also very gallant, leading her around a puddle of water instead of through it. Not all gentlemen were so solicitous of a lady’s gown. In fact, most of them probably wished to soil it so they could convince the lady to take it off.

 

“It’s not my occupation, but I wish it was. Now that I have a telescope, I’m trying to make a map of the night sky. Perhaps you might like to look through it when you check on the kitten.”

 

At the mention of his sweet little gift, Anne-Elisabeth indicated his coat with a nod of her head. “Is she doing all right in there? May I pet her?” Would he allow her to place her hand beneath his jacket? The notion excited her, but he would probably refuse her. It wasn’t as if they were in a private place. There were more courtiers in the garden now, likely happy to be outside after the long pious weekend.

 

The way Lord Silverbridge described it, the weather in the Colonies was a lot like its English counterpart, though perhaps colder. She shivered as she thought of people freezing to death, and instinctively moved closer to the handsome Baron so that their arms would have been touching if there were not so many layers of fabric between them. It seemed as if every day was a fight for survival in his primitive homeland, even in the summer. Insect bites could make you sick or even kill you. They probably had dangerous animals too. It was no wonder he had brought his sister to London to find a husband.

 

And yet he found beauty in it too. Anne-Elisabeth had never seen leaves change color and fall from branches until she had come to England. The raven-haired Countess was quite fascinated with the autumn season. Even feeling leaves crunching underfoot was new to her. “Is spring as cold as it is here?” she asked.

 

“Barbados also has four seasons.” Her grin was full of mirth. “Summer, more summer, a lot of summer, and still more summer. The sun shines brightly and there’s hardly a cloud in the sky. The ocean has a lovely turquoise hue and you can swim in it all year round. Sometimes you can see dolphins leaping in the distance or whales gliding by spouting water into the air. Sharks are only a danger if you swim too far out. Jellyfish are beautiful but their sting can make you ill or even kill you. At night, the stars seem closer somehow, almost as if you can reach up and pluck them from the sky.

 

“I miss it horribly, but I doubt I will ever return. I told you about the shipwreck that stole my family from me. I don’t want to journey by sea anymore. Perhaps in time I may change my mind.”

 

Up ahead, the maze came into view. “What about you, my lord? Are you going back to the Colonies or will you make London your permanent home now that you have a land and a title?”

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He smiled at her reference to future Church attendance adding that he saw no reason as to why they could not share a pew.

"I have used a spy glass so will assume that a telescope is the same but on a larger scale. And what will you do with this map once complete?"

He was truly interested.

"Ah ... yes the kitten. Since I am responsible for taking her up tis only fitting that I moniter her progress."

At her asking he stopped and carefully opened his jacket and drew out the kerchief with the intention of placing it in her own hands.

"She is an obident thing to be sure yet I feel sorry to pen her up like this. Perhaps I was to rushed and should not have bothered? I can always set her free - there are many about who might be as like minded as myself."

"Your four seasons are one I would like to experience! I do not favor the long journeys but oft times the arrivals hold so much more."

"Yes that shipwreck. I did not mean to bring back hurts by asking. I apologize if that is so."

She probed him next with her own set of questions.

He would speak of it once they decided upon the Fate of the small creature and continued walking.

(personally he would not allow himself to cast it away and hoped she felt the same)

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Anne-Elisabeth was glad that Lord Silverbridge agreed to sit with her in Church next week. The service would be much more entertaining with him by her side. Perhaps it would become a habit. There was no reason a widow couldn’t sit with an unmarried gentlemen. Widows were assumed to be ‘merry,’ after all. And I’m probably one of the merriest of the bunch.

 

“I used a spyglass in Barbados. I don’t think telescopes have made it to the Caribbean yet. Once you’ve looked through a telescope, you’ll never want to use a spyglass again.” Lowering her voice, she added: “When I set it up in front of a second story window, I can even spy on the neighbors if they’re in their backyards.”

 

As she had expected, he did not allow her to stick her hand in his coat, but took out the handkerchief that the kitten was wrapped in and held it out to her. As soon as she took the little bundle, the kitten lifted up her head and mewed. She was probably asleep in there. Feelings of tenderness she had not believed herself capable of assaulted Anne-Elisabeth as she scratched the little thing behind her ears. Those strange emotions intensified when the kitten began to purr.

 

Surely Lord Silverbridge wasn’t serious? Was he really contemplating abandoning the kitten? There were dangers in the garden. A courtier’s dog … or maybe one of the King’s spaniels, could come across it and swallow it whole! A fierce protectiveness surged to life inside her. That was not going to happen. She would keep the little creature safe no matter what she had to do to ensure it.

 

This sensation was so out of character that it shocked her. Could it be that she actually had a heart? Oh, she had a literal one. It was pounding in her chest at the notion of anything harming the kitten. But a figurative heart? Anne-Elisabeth had always been so certain that hers had died long ago … that the only living soul she cared about was herself. She was incapable of love. Or was she? Was this what love felt like? Lifting the kitten, she held it against her heart, which settled down and beat in rhythm with the kitten’s purr.

 

“It’s all right,” she told Lord Siverbridge when he apologized for bringing up the shipwreck that had killed her family. “I have learned to live with my loss and I know my family wouldn’t want me to mourn for them forever. I must enjoy life so that their deaths will have meaning.”

 

As for the kitten, the young Countess narrowed her eyes. “So you are going to take away the gift you have given me?” She didn’t really think he would. He was probably just testing her. “She is mine now, and I am going to take her home after we part and give her the best life a kitten could ever wish for. If you promise not to let her go, you can carry her again. I think she feels safe underneath your coat."

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He knew she was of like mind as she held the kitten close aganist her.

"Certanily not." He quietly assured her. "I am not such a man as to be that cold-heated. I would no more toss it away than would you."

"Indeed the best place, for now, seems to be within my coat. Will you surrender her back then?"

"Trust Me." He held out one hand in all seriousness. "She will be warm and safe I swear it."

Even tho she had voiced her thoughts John felt that she was still not convinced that he would not leave it behind.

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“If you did,” Anne-Elisabeth replied with narrowed eyes and a hint of a smile that would tell Lord Silverbridge she knew he was not serious about abandoning the kitten. “I would make you regret it for the rest of your days.”

 

The fluffy feline looked up at her with liquid blue eyes, still purring. “I agree. Your coat is the best place for her. She knows how lucky she is to be held so closely against you.”

 

She kissed the kitten on top of her head, tucked the handkerchief more securely around her, and then relinquished her back into Lord Silverbridge’s care. “Now, you haven’t answered my question. So you think you will stay in London or go back to the Colonies after you find someone to manage your estate for you?”

 

Anne-Elizabeth hoped he planned to stay. They were barely acquainted and yet she knew she would miss him if he left court for good. The neatly trimmed hedges of the labyrinth were now only a short distance away.

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He was all seriousness still but a small quirk of a smile teased at her words of being held close. Time enough to counter.

He gently took the creature and saw it placed once again inside his coat with the same gentleness as before. He then took her arm and draped it back inside his in a gesture that was automatic and set their pace again.

"The journey here was long and hard and yet had to be done. I can not say how long I shall stay - there are many factors you see least of which is the management of the Estate and then my sister and her wants."

"Yet I must not neglect affairs back Home either. I grow tobacco as did my Father. I am responsible for all his lands now as well as my own. Come August and September plants will be ready to harvest. Seedlings were laid down in January and February. After two months have past then we begin to take steps to ensure that the large leaves are only the highest quality. And we must also contend with the dreaded horn worn that can wipe a crop out in less than a week. Once the plants reach six-nine feet they are ready to harvest. But even there we must follow steps - harvest too early before fully matured or peak season has passed then the valus is far less or if they stay too long in the field then they risk being destroyed if a frost comes."

He pause both in speech and walking looking down at her sheepishly. 

"This is what happens when you ask a man his plans - I must beg your pardon."

But for John talking like this with her was as natural as breathing a fact that did not escape his notice.

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Posted (edited)

The kitten went back into Lord Silverbridge’s coat and he placed Anne-Elisabeth’s hand back upon his arm. Was he afraid I would not take it on my own? Of course, she would have, as any physical contact between them sent lovely sensations rippling through her body. With a fake shiver, she stepped closer to him so that her bosom was lightly pressing against his sleeve. She wasn’t cold at all, but she wanted him to think that she was. Or did he see right through her little ruse?

 

So he had a tobacco plantation, or perhaps two or three, in the Colonies. It didn't really surprise her that his upbringing had been similar to her own, though, of course, she had not inherited anything.  She had no idea who owned the plantation and had taken over her father's title.  Whoever he was, he obviously wanted nothing to do with her or he would have contacted her by now.

 

Lord Silverbridge's explanation of how tobacco was harvested and it problem with worms didn’t interest her, but she did enjoy the sound of his  voice.

 

And his sheepish look was adorable and endearing.

 

“No apology needed,” Anne-Elisabeth laughed. “I probably understand more of such things than most Englishwomen. I grew up on a sugar plantation. My father owned several of them. A second son who would never inherit his family’s title and wealth, he moved to Barbados to make his own fortune. I confess I don’t know how exactly sugar is grown and harvested, though I have witnessed a bit of the process. I’ve even tasted sugar cane.” Her pretty face contorted in disgust. “It’s dreadful and has the most revolting aftertaste.

 

“My uncle passed away when I was young and my father found himself an Earl. For the rest of his life, he split his time between London and Barbados. Perhaps you can do the same, spending seasons in London and the rest of your time in the Colonies.” This time her shiver was real. Lord Silverbridge could probably feel it. “I hate to think of you making that dangerous journey so often. I suppose I should have feared for my own father too, but I was unaware then of the perils of sea voyages and he returned to us safely every time.”

 

They had reached the entrance to the maze. “Well, here we are. Shall we try to find our way to the center together or shall we part and see who gets there first?"

Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux

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He felt her movements thru his body how could he not. That she, he thinks, would be as willing hightened his senses even more.

Yet it also aroused a feeling of protectiveness that had him holding her just a bit tighter. That there would be fire between them he guessed but there was no rush.

"I am thankful then that you have an understanding - even tho you have not the knowledge you at least see the dificulties involved."

"And I am appreciative to that."

"That is an interesting idea - I had given it thought and it could be feasible. The Plantations run well with the Overseerer's and my Lady Mother manages well enough."

"My sister here with me is in want of a husband so that will take investigation. As well as what I have inherited."

They had arrived at this Maze and she asked if they go together or seperate. It took him by surprise that he had no real desire to now partake of its possibilites. 

"If I were to suggest that we keep wandering at this lesiure pace would you object?"

"I have a proposition to put to you - will you hear it?"

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Anne-Elisabeth didn’t protest when Lord Silverbridge pulled her closer. Flames of desire already kindled within her, but she doubted that they would become intimate today. Who would look after the kitten? Still, they could tease each other in subtle ways, drawing out their attraction to each other so that when they did give in, their pleasure would be more intense.

 

She was pleased that he took her ideas into consideration and didn’t dismiss her advice because she was a woman. Could it be possible that women had more equality in the Colonies than in England? That was a question she would be sure to ask him eventually. At least it seemed that he would not be leaving before he found a husband for a sister and saw no hurry in returning as he had people he trusted to run his plantations.

 

Perhaps our relationship will develop to the point that he asks me to go with him. The notion was both pleasant and frightening. While she would love to see the Colonies, she was afraid of traveling by sea after the shipwreck that had taken the lives of every member of her family but herself.

 

Lord Silverbridge didn’t seem very excited about exploring the maze now that they had arrived. Anne-Elisabeth had looked forward to discovering its center with him, as she had never been there before. Then again, he might want to wander leisurely into the maze rather than continuing to meander through the gardens. “No objections at all,” she replied with a grin. She did love being held so close to him. “Do you want to wander inside the maze or without?”

 

A proposition? Her dark eyes widened. “Of course I will hear it. My curiosity longs to be satisfied.” And not just about your proposition.

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"Without. But we shall explore it never fear."

"Come let us continue. As you have discovered I am a talkative sort of man and thus walking allows me to think my thoughts."

He resumed the slow pace set for her stride and he once again held her arm close to his side.

"I have told you of my inheritance but have yet to see it. Here is my proposition and you must not feel obligated. We are after all just new-made friends."

"Its a medium sized manor so I've read near Guildford in Surrey. Some distance of three and twenty miles I believe. A few hours by carriage."

"Might I make use of your womanly knowledge and ask you to accompnay me? Be an extra set of 'eyes' to find what I may miss. I have been told there is not much needed in repairs but that is on paper and experience has taught me things are never that way in reality."

"There has been no authority there for quite some time and for all I know may be well emptied out. I will need to hire a Steward and others to manage inside and out."

"And that is where I could use your help."

"I had thought Thursday. For tomorrow I must call upon the Lords of Trade and deliver a signed petition and hope that I might meet with Sir Robert Southwell (secretary) or Mr. Williamson (asst secretary) - either man will, tis hoped, grant me an appontment with those that sit on the Lords." 

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“Very well.” Anne-Elisabeth managed to hide her disappointment, though Lord Silverbridge had promised that they would explore the maze later. It would probably not happen today, but that meant that she would be seeing more of him. At least until he meets a woman who captivates him and he forgets all about me. After all, he was new at court and there were many beautiful women who would adore his attention. Or perhaps they won’t want anything to d with him because they think he’s a savage. She certainly didn’t want him to be shunned, even if it would mean that he would spend more time with a fellow savage like herself.

 

Yes, he did talk a lot but he was not the most garrulous gentleman she had met. There was one in Cornwall who she avoided because she could never get a word in edgewise. And all he ever did was brag about himself. Perhaps if he had extolled her virtues instead of his own, she would have been able to tolerate him.

 

Focusing on the enchanting Lord Silverbridge, Anne-Elisabeth listened to his description of his estate. She had no idea what that had to do with her. He was far too intelligent to ask a woman to marry him when he hardly knew her. Ladies didn’t have that option. Sometimes they were married to a man they had never met before. Gentleman always had a choice.

 

His proposition surprised but pleased her and she smiled warmly. Sharing a carriage with him for a few hours would be delightful in itself.

 

“I would be honored to accompany you,” she replied. “I have my own estate in Cornwall which I manage myself.” Calling it an estate was a bit of a stretch. It was basically a manor by the seaside to which her mother-in-law had banished her because they couldn’t stand the sight of each other. But it was beautiful and it was hers, at least for as long as she drew breath.

 

“I hired my own staff and they have proved to be trustworthy and competent.” Her smile broadened. “I’ve been told I am a good judge of character. And if the interior needs a woman’s touch, I can provide that as well. Perhaps we can  have a picnic on the way or while we are there. My cook will prepare the food for us.  And Thursday is fine with me."

 

I hope I don’t sound too eager.

 

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She agreed to his wanting to continue on and by pass the maze yet he was a bit uncomfortable and so made a mental note to come again soon.

"I am very pleased to hear you accept. Perhaps I should have put it another way as 'propesition' this early in our acquaintance could be misconstrued."

but I am sure that you would also accept that as well

"Do you? Manage it from London then without a Steward? How do you ensure your Authority is there and you are not being cheated? An absent Master runs the risk of loss of property as well as other things."

"And no Stweard to oversee allows for all kinds of rif raf to squat and cause damages."

"Well you are here in London and they are there - is there not an old saying while the cats away the mice will play?"

"A womans touch I think will most assuradely be needed. My Grandfather was a hard hand yet may have softened and I am sure he too must have thought his people were trustworthy".

"I but speculate and so you must not take to heart my questions about how you manage."

"I have the feeling that you are quite capable in all manner of things."

"A picnic?" He stopped and turned to look down at her. "What a good idea. And I am happy to leave it to you."

"I shall come and get you .... we must an early start if we are to be back before nightfall."

but the idea of the two of us and darkness .....

A quiet 'meow from inside his jacket made him smile and he took the small creature out rubbing it gently with one finger on its tiny head.

"I think tis better for it to be in the open don't you? Might it not be better to deliver it to your residence and then I shall take you out for some refreshment."

He smiled and his eyes twinkled in amusement.

"Is it a great distance? Can we walk there or is a carriage needed?"

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“Oh, you wouldn’t proposition me that way.” Pausing, Anne-Elisabeth widened her dark eyes and placed a hand melodramatically over her heart. “You know I’m not that kind of girl.” As they resumed their stroll, she pressed her bosom against Lord Silverbridge’s arm again, proving what he already knew: she was definitely that kind of girl.

 

“I have a steward. I spent my first year in England mourning for my late husband, and I had a lot of time to find someone I trusted. It took a few tries, but the man who passed all my tests is loyal to me and he keeps the rest of the employees in line. He sends me reports every now and then, informing me of what is going on and apprising me of situations that need a decision only I can make. When I went back in January, everything was running smoothly and the accounts were correctly balanced.”

 

The young Countess looked forward to assisting Lord Silverbridge with redecorating the interior of his manor. Renovations didn’t happen overnight, so she had plenty of time to discover his unique sense of style and to tailor everything from the wallpaper to the furniture to his own tastes, but with a charm that would appeal to his future wife. Perhaps his sister would be willing to help as well, with his permission, of course. She would eventually be managing a household of her own.

 

Anne-Elisabeth winked at him when he speculated that she was capable in all manner of things. “Maybe you’ll get the chance to find out.” Her voice had a teasing quality about it. I will certainly enjoy showing you just how ‘capable’ I am.

 

She was glad that Lord Silverbridge agreed to a picnic. “I don’t mind starting early. Nor do I care if we get back after dark. I can do as I please and I answer to no one but myself.” The life of a widow was so freeing that she didn’t know if she’d ever want to marry again. Then again, she had not been a widow for very long. In a few years, she might change her mind.

 

The kitten made its presence known. He took it from his coat and pet its little head. “Yes, that’s a good idea. I think she may be hungry.” Anne-Elisabeth held out her hand and the tiny creature sniffed her fingers and then rubbed up against them. She was an affectionate little thing. “I came by carriage, though if you would rather walk, I can send my driver home without me.”

 

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He made no outward sign as she once again pressed against his arm but then could not help the half smile that came and went as he looked down at her.

"I have yet to discover all those things that make up yourself Madam - but I know already the sense of Theatre plays an important part."

"Then I shall speak no more about it. But save to say that you needs must keep a diligent eye on servants - even those you say are Loyal - and you must not allow for unannounced visits to have too great a gap. Tis best to catch any out doing that."

"You must not tease tis most unfair. For I must take care to not offend a Lady's sensibilities  so if I were to reply in kind, well, I might well be taken down a peg or two."

That he WAS teasing she would know by the lack of serious tone to his words.

He nodded his head at her acceptance.

"Then I shall come for you at half past seven. If I might suggest that you leave off the 'Court Dress' for something more designed for country pursuits."

"But I have no doubt that what ere you wear you will look splendid."

"I think your carriage. That way I will also know where you live and it will be easily found."

"I have a fondness for walking but now I think some less strenuous activity so that I do not tire you out."

He would then steer her in the direction of wherever her carriage was. 

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“Because life should be dramatic.” Anne-Elisabeth grinned. “It would be insufferably boring otherwise, would it not?”

 

What Lord Silverbridge said was true, of course. Servants were quite prone to greed and corruption.  With their masters (or mistresses) absent for a good part of the year, they could pad their own pockets without anyone being the wiser if a close eye was not kept on them. She didn’t trust her steward … or anyone, for that matter … implicitly, but so far, he had given her no reason to suspect him.

 

“I do show up unexpectedly. Cornwall is too far away to drop in often, but during recess, I give no advance notice of my arrival or tell them that I am coming back at all. Sometimes they’re not ready for me, so I believe I catch them unawares. If anything illicit is going on, they hide it well, but I have no doubt that they will slip up eventually.”

 

He teased her right back. Anne-Elisabeth adored the playful relationship they were developing as well as the sexual tension between them. Spending an entire day with him was going to be delightful. “I have some plainer gowns I can wear. I do hope it will not be a cold day.” In truth, she hoped it was, so that he would have an excuse to keep her warm.

 

Lord Silverbridge decided on the carriage. She would have been happy with either option. “Oh, you never have to worry about tiring me out,” she commented with a wicked grin and a saucy wink. “I just hope you can keep up with me.”

 

He began to lead her toward the exit where the carriages of visitors were usually parked. “We can see our short journey as a test of how compatible we are in a carriage, since we’ll be spending several hours in one together.”

 

Her driver saw them coming and opened the door of the coach.  If he was surprised that she was taking a gentleman home with her, he hid it well.  He took her hand and helped her inside and then stood aside so that her companion could enter as well.  As Anne-Elisabeth waited for the fascinating Baron to join her, she wondered if he would sit opposite her or beside her.

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He held up his hands in a playful manner a chuckle escaping as he answered back

"Enough! Enough! I am fully convinced of your capabilities Madam in regards to your own Estate. Thank Goodness it is You that has agreed to assist me for otherwise I might have been saddled with a woman entirely clueless."

She agreed to returning to her carriage which he was glad of - being in a small space unobserved might provide for some further bantering.

"Well. Another point that I must remember - you do not tire easily and, so it seems, think you can outpace me."

Was that a hint of challenge in his voice?

"True. Confined spaces for over-long can be most unpleasant but that also depends on ones company."

He stood aside as her driver assisted her inside then climbed in after taking the seat opposite hers.

"Tis only right that I am seated thus for the roads are awful and I should be at the ready in case you are tossed about - I should hate to see you in any discomfort."

Again the play on words and the alluding to being together cloaked under the guise of Politeness.

"Have we far to go then? Tell me of where you live - is it arranged as colorfully as You? Do you have others that live there besides servants?"

He wanted to know who else might be in residence for that would determine his own manner upon arrival.

He reclined comfortably relaxed and somewhat amused .... what a good day this was turning out to be!

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“Most ladies are content to manage their own households and would not know the first thing about keeping an estate running smoothly.” Another impish grin. “I promise I will exceed your every expectation.”

 

Did he just challenge me? Anne-Elisabeth never refused a challenge and proving that she could perform better than Lord Silverbridge would be quite delightful, if his mind was traveling in the same direction of hers. She looked forward to him testing her endurance.

 

“We can always read to each other or tell stories.” Her dark eyes danced with amusement.  “I’m sure we can find interesting ways to occupy ourselves.”

 

The handsome Baron sat opposite her instead of beside her. His explanation made her chuckle. Anne-Elisabeth now hoped it would be a bumpy ride. “I am so lucky to have made the acquaintance of such a gallant gentleman. You are extraordinary, my lord.”

 

The carriage began to trundle down the road toward Piccadilly Street. “It’s not far at all. We’ll be there in a few minutes if we don’t have to stop because a coach lost a wheel or a wagon overturned. I bought the house and I live there alone, though I occasionally invite friends to spend the night. As for the décor, you shall see.”

 

She tilted her head to the side. “Where are you staying? I suppose you haven’t had the time to buy a house yet, if you plan to put down permanent roots here.” The young Countess wrinkled her nose. “Last season I was stuck in St. Mark’s Hall. It was like living in a closet.”

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"There is that." he said back in regards to reading. "Although I'd much rather hear stories about the place you come from. And I can tell you more about mine."

They jolted about and he used on long leg to brace against the door to keep himself steady. His eyes resting on her assessed but were also watchful.

"Alone?" He gave a small frown." How is that in the least safe? How many know that you do so? Do you at least employ several strong men that will readily come to you aid?"

"My sister is older than you and I would never think to leave her exposed like that. Why tis a wonder nothing has happened afore now."

He would have a good look around and point out to her what needed improvements! That he had no actual right to do so he had not contemplated.

"The Red Lion. I have rented rooms there as I do not know how long we shall be here. I have not the means as many other Gentlemen and cannot afford to waste coin. Everything must go into the crops."

"I am by no means destitute so do not think I am poorly. Monies are balanced and planned and now there is this inheritance to deal with. I am hopeful that not much will be needed by way of repair to this Manor House I have yet to see."

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